China’s National Narcotics Control Commission claimed that approximately 14 million drug addicts lived in China in 2014, “a number that the agency acknowledges is a serious undercount,” according to Bloomberg View. Nearly half of the 2.955 million addicts registered with government agencies were hooked on methamphetamine; synthetic drug use is rising, on average, at a rate of 36 percent every year.
The problem is so bad, CNN reported that in the Chinese province of Guangdong, Chinese police conducted 109 synchronized raids on the village of Boshe, home to only 14,000 people, and shut down 77 drug factories, resulting in the arrest of 182 people suspected to be involved in over 18 different drug rings in January 2014.
The fact that Guangdong province is the heart of China’s chemical industry probably makes the situation worse since meth cooks can bribe corrupt management at chemical factories, gaining access to large quantities of precursor chemicals necessary in the production of methamphetamine. In fact, China is one of the world’s largest producers of chemicals needed in the production of synthetic drugs.
An article in the Atlantic stated that the majority of addicts come from the newly-rich urban class and poor youth in rural areas—roughly 80 percent of users are under the age of 35.
To gain a better understanding of factors that could be influencing this rise in synthetic drug use in rural China, I interviewed Portland State Assistant Professor Yiping Fang from the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning. She said that, since the 1980s, formerly-rural migrant workers in cities have been deemed “second-class citizens [who] do not have access to local public services, including healthcare and schools.”
“They were supposed to return to their rural villages when they are old enough to retire,” Fang said. “As a result, [the] majority [of the] population living in rural communities are those who are young kids and old grandparents. Many social problems arise relating to kids growing up without parents.”
The country of North Korea has a hand in the synthetic drug epidemic taking China by storm, despite China being one of North Korea’s few allies.
Chinese criminals sell large quantities of precursor chemicals to North Korean cooks, North Koreans then sell Chinese criminals the finished product of extremely pure methamphetamine. In fact, even the government of North Korea has a history of forcing its embassies to sell large quantities of illegal goods, including methamphetamine, to earn hard cash to prop up the regime.
The North Korean regime had been manufacturing massive batches of extremely pure methamphetamine to sell abroad, but since 2004 the production of methamphetamine is mainly controlled by private, black-market interests.
While China has seen a significant increase in methamphetamine addiction, the population of North Korea appears to be embracing the drug with alarming enthusiasm. Experts have reported a usage rate of approximately 40 to 50 percent of the North Korean population. The drug has been used as a display of wealth in elite circles, while the country’s poorer populations tend to use methamphetamine as a miracle drug—purporting to cure everything from stomachaches to strokes. This can especially be attributed to the severe lack of actual medicine in the country.
As college students, we are often approached by people trying to sell us “bad decisions.” While our capitalist culture elevates drug-dealing figures like Biggie Smalls and Rick Ross, it’s important to remember the cost of such displays of decadent extravagance. Drug dealers across the globe indirectly earn profits for murderous regimes, so the next time someone offers you “a good time,” remember that they might be indirectly funding one of Kim Jong-un’s personal car-toilets while propping up the ruthless regime.